The Sunday News
Yester year greats with Lovemore Dube
THE Midlands Province has been known to produce brilliant footballers.
It is probably because of the influence of mining towns. At these urban settlements sport was big for recreation and entertainment and many a boy found himself playing without any persuasion.
Among the players to make a big impact in the Midlands football scene is former tough as teak roving left-back Farai Vandira.
One cannot talk about Zvishavane legends and leave his name out, nor can it miss in the Lancashire Steel FC annals of history. His contribution to both was massive and he was always counted among the star players for either side.
Perhaps his biggest undoing is that he played for less fashionable sides, worse still outside the dominant two football cities of Bulawayo and Harare. Worse still media attention for mining teams has always been minimal with the stars missing the glare of the media to prop them up.
But many strikers in the Zifa Southern Region Division One League of the early 1990s and Premiership, will testify that Vandira was no easy opponent to get past. Imposing physically, athletic and with a big match heart, Vandira stood up to the task every time he took to the field always in contention for the Southern Region Sportswriters Association of Zimbabwe nominations for the Player of the Month gong.
Married to Samukeliso Maphosa, with two children aged 25 and 17, Farai was born on 16 April 1971 in the Midlands town of Zvishavane. He attended Gresham Primary School and moved to Mandava High School. He started his flirtation with the world’s most beautiful game in his early days on the streets of Mandava and Maglas where rivalry among boys was ever high. Football provided the podium spot for bragging rights. His first team in the competitive ranks was Mandava United whom he was in its books while at Mandava High School.
“My first team was Mandava United in the Zifa Southern Region whom I played for while they were in Division One. I later left them for Prison Bombers before the Shushine FC manager invited me over in 1991,” said Vandira.
That was the beginning of a great career that would take him to the Midlands mining town of Kwekwe. At Shushine, a club that was hungry for glory and infested with impressive young talent, Vandira played with the likes of Vivian “Sturu” Mushekwa, Tavaka Gumbo, Graddy Siziba, Santo Phiri, Isaac Riyano, Menyani Phiri and his late great friend Norman Moyo also another Midlands football legend.
“We were promoted at the end of 1991 and we stayed in the Premiership for two years,” said Vandira.
His most memorable match at Shushine was the title defender against Shabanie Mine towards the end of 1991. With the miners leading 3-0 with less than a quarter of an hour to go, the team then coached by Ian “Fifa Coach” Mpofu ran riot to overturn that deficit. A five-goal salvo was enough to clinch the title at Mandava. The two teams had some fierce rival with the miners then coached by former Dynamos favourite Shaw Handriade hard to beat in the league.
Tavaka Gumbo and Ishmael Flamingo were on target in those deciding minutes of the clash which saw the busmen eclipse Shabanie who would eventually get their turn for the elite league in 2001 going all the way to the FA Cup final against league and cup double winners Bosso.
Like all players who turned out for Shushine, Vandira said he was happy with the way their welfare was taken care of. Vandira spoke of the Zifa First Division of the time as having been very competitive.
“We had teams like Kismet, our clashes at home and away were played as if they were derbies, in Bulawayo there were teams like Red Seal Rovers who had a very good goalkeeper, Kango and Ishmael Meki’s Tongogara too was no easy side,” he said in an interview from his Zvishavane base where he survives through hassling.
So impressive were the stars from the young outfit that Gumbo and Isaac Riyano were voted into the Soccer Star of the Year calendar in that era. Riyano would make it into the Dream Team star-studded cast led by the mercurial Peter Ndlovu. Back in Division One in 1994, managing an impressive runner up in the Southern Region, Vandira found himself a wanted player.
His destination was to ambitious Lancashire Steel who would want to outdo sister company side Ziscosteel who were now a shadow of the powerful side of the late 1970s that had even won the coveted Castle Cup in 1978. Vandira arrived as a sure bet for a staring berth combining well with Paul Gundani, Newman Bizeki, Ian Matondo, Kingstone Rinemhota, Luke Jukulile-Petros, Petros Sibanda, Abdul Karim and Albert Mbano. An injury in the build up to Lancashire Steel’s most treasured moment in 1999, meant he would not be part of the side that beat Caps United 2-1 to win the Madison Trophy.
“I always curse that moment. I missed out on my biggest day in the game, would have been happy to have been on my leftback position in the cup final but the knee injury meant I would just be a spectator and I walked off the game with nothing,” said the player scouted by legendary David Mandigora, the Lancashire Steel coach who earned them promotion.
It was a tight race in which Shushine appeared on course to beg but a spectacular turn of form in the home straight was enough for Mandigora to pen another success story. In the Premiership Vandira said his most difficult opponent was Alois “Zola” Bunjira.
“He was skilful, had pace, he was just too slippery to contain,” he said.
The injury saw him stay out of the game for two years. He said he had considered himself out for good but was persuaded back by Fewdays Musonda when he took over as coach insisting he wanted the club’s former leftback. Vandira remembers his comeback match vividly.
“We were on a good run and in my first match we faced Highlanders at Barbourfields Stadium. Bosso had just signed Adam Ndlovu and Stewart Murisa and what a game. We were men at work all 90 minutes with the duo combining well to give us a torrid afternoon. But we held on superbly to hold Highlanders to a 0-0 draw. We must have gone five or so matches without a loss,” said Vandira.
Vandire regards his team’s 6-3 win over Dynamos as having been one of his and team’s career milestones. But the recurrent knee injury eventually forced him to retire early 2002. He at one time was assistant gaffer to Solomon Kaseke and Willard Khumalo and also coached Lancashire Steel juniors before returning to his Zvishavane base where he has lived ever since with his wife Samukeliso and children.
He said he missed impressing national selectors when he was called up to the Southern Region Select by Benedict Moyo.
The club could not release its players. He regards his defence partnership with Gundani on right back, himself at left-back and Matondo and Bizeki at the centre as having been the best he was fielded in his entire career. With a Level Three coaching certificate, Vandira said he would not mind giving back to the community and the game.